5 Steps to Writing Engaging Technical Content

by Dan Martin

Making a dry, technical topic interesting can seem impossible.

Depending on the topic, just making it readable can be a real challenge!

If you’ve ever been in the position of trying to promote a highly technical product or service through a series of blog posts or articles, you’ll know what it’s like.

You’ve got a mass of documents and notes from engineers or developers – spec sheets, data, analysis reports, etc. Then (if you’re lucky), you’ve got instructions from the marketing department – market research, buyer personas, tone of voice guidance, etc.

It can be overwhelming! 

And that’s before you even put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard) to try and write something that’s going to engage readers.

As a copywriter and content creator (specialising in technical B2B writing) in business since 2016, I’ve developed a strategy to help cut through the information overload and write content that hits the mark.

This article will shed some light on how to make sure that your technical content never bores readers to sleep again, or even worse – confuses the living daylights out of them!

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that you have been asked to write a technical blog post for your company on topics related to the product you sell.

 

1. Condense your research

When I started out as a technical copywriter I made what I now know to be a common mistake. 

Over-researching.

You know how it is. You’re out to impress. You’re desperately trying to get your content to stand out. So what do you do? You try to read and digest every single piece of information out there on the subject you’re writing about.

This is a quick route to information overload and analysis paralysis!

These days, my research usually consists of the following:

  • Start by asking people within your company – engineers, developers, marketing managers, technicians, etc. for any relevant documents or resources,
  • Use a bespoke questionnaire to draw out relevant information (more on this later),
  • Bookmark the top three results from a Google search,
  • Use Google scholar to search for academic and technical papers and gather ideas,
  • Use Google Trends to find topics that are popular in your field or industry,
  • Use Scribd to find one or two relevant books or documents.
 
 

Ok, I know this seems like a lot of information. But, the trick is – you don’t have to read every piece of information in-depth.

I will scan through documents, articles, papers, and books, looking for ideas initially and jotting them down on a piece of paper. My preferred method is to create a mind-map, but you can list them in any way you like.

For example, here’s an article I wrote on BIM adoption for architects. 

Initially, I had no idea what BIM was (Building Information Models) or how it applied to architects. So, I followed the process outlined above. From that, I drew up a mind-map on the key things that architects needed to know regarding BIM implementation. 

I then copied and pasted chunks of information that jumped out at me from the various sources into a separate document. I also made sure to reference where I found the information. The key thing here is to make sure that you’re selective. 

Only copy and paste the bits that really make you think and that will definitely stand out to your target audience. Interesting statistics and data are often good to include in your content.

Once you have a mind-map or concept list and a reference file you can move onto the next stage.

2. Plan like a pro

Another common mistake that writers make is to dive straight in and begin writing without a structure in mind.

This method is known in the fiction writing trade as “pantsing it”. In other words, you’re writing by the seat of your pants. The opposite approach is “plotting it”. Both approaches can work when it comes to fiction, but…

For non-fiction blogs and articles I would always recommend plotting it, or planning it.

Structure is everything.

We won’t worry about the title or headline of your article yet. Sometimes the person requesting the content may give you a title to work with, sometimes not. 

If you don’t have one, don’t worry about deciding now. As long as you know the main topic of the content, we can come back to this later, which gives you a better chance of coming up with a headline that grabs attention. For now, just use a place-holder title that sums up the content.

Generally, an article will have three main sections: 

Intro, Body, Summary. 

The summary may also include a call-to-action, which is a call out for the reader to do something, such as read another post, request information, book a free trial, order a product, etc.

If you have been asked to hit a certain word count, I would recommend allocating around 10-15% for the intro

10-15% for the summary

which leaves 70-80% for the body.

The 1000-word article would look like this in terms of word count:

  • Intro – 100 to 150 words
  • Body – 700 to 800 words
  • Summary – 100 to 150 words
 

These are flexible, but it gives you a rough rule of thumb for allocating words.

Next, you need to break the body section up further. In other words, you need to decide on some subheadings. This is where your research comes in. 

Use the mind-map or list to come up with the most important points to cover and include these as subheadings.

For example, the initial structure for the BIM adoption article looked like this:

  1. Intro – Brief introduction to BIM.
  2. Body 
  3. The Changing Requirements and Complexity of Construction Projects
  4. The Need Around BIM
  5. BIM Adoption Around the World
  6. Current BIM Adoption Level of Industries
  7. The Challenges of BIM Implementation for Architects
  8. People and Training Needs
  9. BIM Standards and Standard Object Dictionaries
  10. Contractual Matters and BIM
  11. Different Levels of Adoption
  12. Concerns Over the Process of BIM Implementation
  13. Other Challenges Preventing Widespread BIM Adoption
  14. The Demand for Specialist Skills
  15. Data Security Concerns
  16. Case Studies – BIM Adoption by Businesses
  17. Summary – It’s Time to Embrace BIM
 

Obviously, this was a long article of 3000+ words, but it gives you an idea of how to break things down into smaller subsections.

Once you have got your subheadings in place, you can allocate rough word counts to each one. 

Now you’ve got a good outline structure for your content, the next stage is to write the damn thing!

3. Get it written!

By now, you should have a good idea in your mind about what you want to write.

But before you jump in, you should decide “how” you’re going to write it.

By this, I don’t mean what type of word processor you’re going to use or whether you’ll write it with a keyboard or using dictation software (these are things you can decide for yourself). 

What I mean is – choose the kind of style are you going to use.

If you don’t have strict style or tone-of-voice guidance from your company, I would recommend using an informal, conversational style of writing. 

Put it this way – would you prefer to read a stuffy, dry technical document or hear it explained in a simple, clear way by a friend? 

Aim for the latter and you’re sure to get more engagement. Once you’ve decided on your style, it’s time to start writing. 

The best advice I can give here is to get your first draft as quickly and messily as possible. Don’t go back and edit what you’ve already written too much, this will slow down your progress and can cause loss of motivation. 

Ok, so you’ve got your first draft written. Now go back over it and edit it for typos, phrasing, spelling, grammar, etc. You want each sentence to flow nicely into the next one. 

Don’t try to communicate more than one idea or concept in one sentence.

Each paragraph should be as short as possible, no more than 4 or 5 lines. You can get away with longer paragraphs in a book or printed document, but not on the internet. If your content is designed to be read online, it needs to be snappy and be scan-able or scroll-able. 

Break things up with bulleted lists and sub-subheadings. 

Finally, you need to go back to the headline. The headline is arguably the most important piece of the article as people will use it to decide whether or not to begin reading. I normally brainstorm at least ten different headlines, then whittle it down to two or three of the most attention-grabbing ones. I’ll include all two or three in the initial submission for approval.

Now you’ve got an edited first draft it’s time to submit it for feedback.

4. Getting the right feedback and acting on it

When you submit your first draft for feedback from whoever requested the content, you want to make sure that you get constructive comments. Ask the person to use the commenting feature in whichever word processor you’re using, rather than just writing a summary of what needs to be changed. 

Ask them to be specific – what needs changing and why it needs changing. 

Above all, don’t take criticism personally, even if it seems scathing. Just accept that a first draft is never going to be perfect. 

I bet even Shakespeare didn’t write perfect first drafts! So, set your ego aside. 

I recommend reading through the comments, then leaving that piece of work alone for at least an hour for the comments and feedback to sink in. Then come back to it and start addressing them.

5. Final checks and tweaks

Make sure that you read through the entire document again when you are writing the second draft. Don’t just address the feedback comments. By checking the entire thing again, you may notice some mistakes that the reviewer didn’t pick up, or you may think of a new angle or idea you can include.

The brain is a marvellous thing and it works on things subconsciously. This means that when you come back to a piece of writing, your brain has been thinking about it in the background. I’m always amazed at how many new ideas come into my head for an article when I’m writing the second or third drafts.

Once you’re done, submit it again, but don’t be surprised if it gets returned for more revisions. Most content needs at least two revision runs before it’s good to go in my experience.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to take in when it comes to writing technical content.

The main takeaways that will help you to write the best content possible are:

  • Research in a smart way. Don’t overdo it, but at the same time make sure you use a variety of sources. 
  • Reference everything in a research document and mind-map/list.
  • Create a structured plan for your content.
  • Write your first draft quickly without self-editing.
  • Use a conversational, engaging tone if possible.
  • Spend some time on getting the headline right.
  • Don’t take feedback personally.
  • Re-read and edit the entire first draft, not just the bits that were commented on.
  • Add any new ideas that come to you during the second draft.
  • Be prepared for at least two revision sessions or more.
 
 

I hope you have found this guide to writing engaging technical content useful.

To learn more about the topic or to find out about more our services, get in touch here.

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